Births, deaths, marriages, birthdays, celebrations, crises, tragedies. These are all rites of passage that we experience on our journey through life on this earth. These are also times when cultural motifs and belief systems are exposed openly and exhibited through traditions and customs. Basically, how we handle with these significant events show others what we believe to be important in life.
As a missionary, my "job" is to join God in his mission of reconciling the world back to him, fixing the broken relationship between God and the creation that he loves so much. For me in my context, this means that I do life and go through those rites of passage with those here in Whangarei, New Zealand whether it is good, bad, or ugly. This also means that I strive to understand, as much as possible, the deeper parts of the culture of those with whom I live and minister. Well, last week was bad and ugly; there's no getting around that. And yet, because of what occurred, I had the dreaded privilege of getting a crash course in Maori culture and observing how God raises beauty out of the ashes.
Last week was marked with terrible tragedy as one of our dear teens believed the lie that life wasn't worth it and decided to take her own life. This event rocked our little New Hope church fellowship, as well as the local high school where she attended. Unfortunately this is not the only time this has happened in recent months. It is clear that we are in a heated spiritual battle, and as we take up the full amour of God, we are coming out the other side of the battlefield as more than conquerors, standing firm in our faith in Jesus Christ.
The line from the old Steven Curtis Chapman song is true, "His strength is perfect when our strength is gone; He'll carry us when we can't carry on. Raised in his power, the weak become strong."
Through this situation, I have learned a few things about God, about myself, and about Maori culture. Let me share just a few of these with you:
-- God IS ALWAYS NEAR: There is no place on earth, even in the darkest corners, where He is not present.
-- TAKE UP THE FULL ARMOUR OF GOD: We are spiritual beings in a spiritual battle and therefore must fight with spiritual weapons. Don't be naive and assume that certain hardships can't touch you. Stay in the Word of God and pray unceasingly. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
-- THE CHURCH 'WORKS' : God created something beautiful when he designed the Church, the family of God. Even though this was a very diffcult situation, not once have I been without spiritual, emotional and physical support from fellow believers.
-- "WHANAU" (family) and "WHAKAPAPA" (genealogy) is extremely important in Maori culture. Relatives of all kinds came out of the woodwork from all around the world to offer support, make tough decisions, and plan the logistics of the "tangi" (Maori 3-day funeral).
Never before have I witnessed such strong community and togetherness. The whanau stayed with her body at the Marae for three days giving speeches, singing songs and sharing last moments with her before completing the process with an official funeral ceremony and burial service. After sending her spirit off at the burial, we all headed back to the Marae for feasting and a chance to begin the healing process.
Joy was eager to be restored again and I can't tell you how wonderful it was to once again hear cheerful melodies sung and see faces lifted. This brings me to my next lesson:
-- JOY COMES IN THE MORNING. Our hope is in Jesus Christ alone and his complete ability to deliver us from evil and give us eternal life. There is a time to cry and mourn, but there is MORE time to live and celebrate life. No one can survive in a state of hopelessness and despair. Cry a bit, let it out, mourn. . . but don't stay there. Now is the time to look up and see the Savior offering such sweet peace and joy and hope that you can't help but laugh and be lifted up!
Previously mentioned are only brief snapshots of the some of the lessons I learned this week. May you be lifted up today by the Holy God who loves you, lives to bring you life and who says,
"Don't be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I died, but look- I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave." ~Revelation 1: 17-18